I chased after my Mom as she pulled a rotary blade lawnmower on a path connecting the neighbor’s house with our house. I had been playing with my two-year old brother, Allan, in an abandoned chicken coup and we got hungry. “Stay here, I’ll go ask Mom for a snack. I’ll be right back, okay?” Then, I ran after Mom.
“Mom!” She didn’t hear me. I pumped my five-year old arms, legs, and feet faster closing the gap separating us. “Mom!” I could hear the blades whirling, but she kept going. I caught up to her, “Mom!” That’s when I tripped on a stone in the path, fell forward, and watched my left hand slip between the spinning blades. I panicked and tried to pull my hand out. I did, but as I did the tip of my finger was sliced off diagonally across the first joint of my left index finger. Mom felt me touch the mower. She stopped and turned around, the blades were still spinning, it was too late, blood gushed from my missing finger tip. “Mom!” I started to cry. She quickly pulled out a handkerchief from her pocket, knelt, and wrapped it around my finger to protect it and slow the bleeding. Then she picked me up. Carried me. Running, toward our house. We had a phone, she called for help.
Then we waited outside. Mom held me. She had replaced the handkerchief with a wash cloth. My terror branded an unforgettable memory. I remember Allan standing beside us staring at my covered hand. I can’t remember how he got there. And I barely remember the ambulance arriving, the ride to the hospital, or the surgery. These are a blur. I can remember the wha-wha-wha nauseous feeling of the aftereffects of the ether, and opening my eyes and seeing this big, white gauze bandage with white tape wrapped around my finger. I can remember shaking. I can remember gagging. I can remember crying. “Mom?”
The surgeon talked to my mother. It was decided that in the surgery the prudent thing to do was cut more of my finger off, all the way to the first joint, and to save some of the skin and fold this patch of skin over the bone, creating a pad, so that I’d have a bit of cushion on my finger-tip, instead of just hard, pointy, bone. I wasn’t in on that conversation. My Mom told me of it later.
I don’t remember, either, how long I was in the hospital before my Mom and Dad took me home. But I do remember, after being home for a few days, going outside and walking into the neighbor’s corn field, with the stalks eight inches above my head, and praying. My bandages had been removed. I looked at my stub of a finger. I saw the thin red line where the surgeon had folded over the skin on the end of my finger, and the black stitches poking out. Tears filled my eyes. I wanted to be alone with God. I lifted my left hand, my missing finger pointing to heaven, and I pleaded, “Please heal me, make my finger normal.”
Nothing happened. In life’s pursuit what most of us want to find out, at one time or another, is this: Does prayer make any difference? And if it does, is there a right way versus a wrong way to pray? And moreover, is prayer about me, or is prayer about God, or is prayer about both God and me? It’s the disciples being overcome by the storm, waking Jesus, and demanding an answer, “Don’t you care that we’re drowning?” (Mark 4:38). I was frustrated, because there was no immediate miracle. I prayed again. Still no physical change.
Then, I was five, now I’m sixty-seven. Throughout my life I’ve battled with prayer. I have asked a lot of questions like the ones above and others: Why bother praying? Is God listening? Does God know who I am? Does God care about me? And, I’ve called out, like Jesus, “Father why have you forsaken me?”
I prayed in that cornfield because I believed what my Mom, my Grandma, and my Sunday school teacher said, “God is real and he’s really here.” At the time, I wasn’t trying to figure out if God existed. I wasn’t trying to figure out if I God meant what he said. What were my expectations? My child-like faith expected instant satisfaction. I wouldn’t quit praying for my healing, “God, you promised, now deliver!”
Nothing happened. So through my life, I began to think about my expectations. Were they incorrect? What should I expect? Was God waiting for something to happen inside me? I had my bout with doubt, where is God when tragedy happens? Where was God when my accident took place? Why do innocent children die? Is it like I’ve heard, God’s answer to prayer is yes, no, or maybe later? And if so, was God’s response to me no or maybe later? Who is in charge, anyway?
I’m not sure when it was that I realized that I was only viewing my life from my perspective. I didn’t care much about God’s perspective. It didn’t even occur to me to consider God’s perspective. Nor what God intended. Nor what God’s plan and purpose for my life happened to be. Nor that God’s plan and purpose may be contrary to my plan and purpose. But then, when I tried to see things from God’s perspective, I asked myself, “Is prayer supposed to turn out like I want it to turn out?”
It took years and years before the doubt, confusion, and bitterness began to clear, fog lifting from the ocean shore. I had to want to learn how to listen, and then, listen. I had to learn how God spoke to me. I had to learn how to distinguish God’s talk from the other talk I might hear (my self-doubt voice, my self-elation voice, or, is that the devil’s voice?”). I, finally, did come to realize that God is trying to speak to all of us, all the time. To get to this spot I had to stop trying to control everything. I had to change my perspective, from “God, do it my way or forget it,” to “Lord your will be done.”
My nonsense didn’t seem silly or disrespectful when I told God exactly how I felt. Did God really want to be my friend? I’d sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus,” getting most of the lyrics right in all four stanzas. Being friends with God was likable on my terms, but God has his own terms. I heard and read wonderful stories about prayer. I studied prayer and reflected on a thousand and three quotations about prayer. Here are four of them:
- “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” ―Søren Kierkegaard
- “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” ―Mother Teresa
- “We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.” ―Oswald Chambers
- “The common man prays, ‘I want a cookie right now!’ And God responds, ‘If you’d listen to what I say, tomorrow it will bring you 100 cookies.” ―Criss Jami
It dawned on me that God had always been interested in a relationship with me. That flash of genius led to a simple prayer, “Lord, I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
About that time, I gave up asking for what I assumed was best for me and instead I asked, “God, what’s best for me?” I began to see what God wanted from me was intimacy. I did my best to connect with God. I came to understand that prayer changes me, not God. Prayer prepares me for life in all its fullness. Prayer isn’t about selfishness. Prayer gets me in touch with reality. I saw that I didn’t have to give up on prayer. Prayer isn’t useless. Prayer has benefits, which I knew little about. Talking to God isn’t an empty exercise. Jesus truly is the model for prayer. What did prayer do for Jesus? It sustained him. It equipped him. It was a power-bar providing the strength to suffer and endure. Prayer made Calvary a redeeming actuality.
Now, like the disciples in Luke 11:1 I ask, “Lord will you teach me to pray?”
If prayer is about connecting with God (and it is), then this is the intimate relationship that was disconnected in the Garden of Eden. Prayer then is the reconnected relationship we can experience, fully, because of Jesus. Herein is the power of prayer: we speak our words to the Living God who made the heavens and the earth. Thus, discouragement fades because God’s will is being established. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9). I believe in prayer because of Jesus, not because my finger is still short by one joint.
When I talked on radio I often said, “If you have something going on in your life that is a prayer request and you’d like me to pray with you, or for you, give me a call.” Today I ask, “If you have something you’d like me to pray about leave your request and I’ll pray. Click the “PRAYER” button at the top of the page, below “Lee’s Nite Radio Your Life has Meaning,” and let me know what’s happening. You don’t have to, but if you’d like me to answer provide me your email address. (Your email address will remain between you and me).
We have a mighty God who wants more than anything for you to let him love you. Don’t be afraid to pray. Be encouraged. My missing finger has become an opportunity to know God—more intimately.